Members of the South County Federation civic association welcomed the four Democratic candidates to replace Gerry Hyland as Mount Vernon District supervisor for a debate during their April 14 meeting in the South County High School Library.
Karen Corbett Sanders, who’s running for the Mount Vernon District School Board seat Dan Storck will vacate, said a few words about seeking “equity and excellence” for area students prior to the debate.
In standard fashion, Storck, Planning Commission member Tim Sargeant, small business owner Candice Bennett and small business owner and Fairfax County Human Services Council appointee Jack Dobbyn each gave opening remarks, answered questions moderated by Federation president and Lorton resident Nick Firth and delivered closing comments.
Ten questions from the association ranged from transportation challenge priorities and land use planning to schools funding and promotion of the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton.
Firth was generally pleased with the event. “We had some candid answers and some different answers,” he said, “which you try to draw out with the questions.”
Viewpoints didn’t differ much when it came to questions of continuing to look to the Federation as a resource in land use issues (all supportive), bringing sewer to Mason Neck (all opposed), transportation priorities (all acknowledge Route 1 needs expansion and more public transportation) and increasing funding to schools (Richmond isn’t funding as much as they should be).
One of the clear differences among the candidates was in opinion of the handling of the financial challenges of the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. In particular, Dobbyn repeatedly referred to Fairfax County wasting $30 million on bailing out the arts center while the others were more supportive of the investments that have gone into keeping it running.
In response to the question of how, as supervisor, they would continue to promote the health of the Workhouse, Dobbyn said, “I wish they had thought of that the first time.”
Bennett said it’s important to continue to “build it up” and improve communication and marketing. “We could make this an arts destination.”
“It’s been an expensive gem,” said Storck.
Sargeant agreed marketing could be improved, along with further investment, and praised it as an effective “adaptive reuse of historic structures.”
Firth added to the Workhouse discussion: “It was previously a sinking ship, now it’s just floating. We need more community entities to come on.”
On the question of filling commercial space vacancies along Route 1 and creating more jobs in the area, Storck referenced the history, tourism and “tremendous health care infrastructure” in Mount Vernon, saying “We’re not Tysons, we’re not Reston.”
Sargeant spoke to his Planning Commission experience working on transit-oriented development and the “challenge with what we’re going to do where space is zoned for office.”
Dobbyn was in favor of bringing in “young startups” to the area, rather than a larger firm like Deloitte.
Alternatively, Bennett would try to attract larger businesses to the Route 1 corridor that would have a “trickle down effect” on foot traffic other businesses need to survive. Bennett also brought up working to fight Sequestration cuts that are stifling some job growth.
The Democratic primary election is scheduled for June 9. In October, Firth said the Federation will hold an inter-party debate.
For more information on the South County Federation visit www.southcountyfederation.com.